Nonsense on asylum

Immigrants on a boat near Sicily (picture Vito Manzari)

Two types of nonsense on display in the Daily Express today. The spark is a report that 124 illegal immigrants found on a beach in Corsica were set free by French judges rather than held in detention. It is thought likely by police and charity workers that most of the immigrants will try and head to Britain rather than stay in France.

The first type of nonsense came from UKIP MEP Gerard Batten, saying “Once again the French are exporting their illegal immigration problem to Britain.” Gerard Batten believes in national sovereignty: according to his view of Europe, the French are entirely entitled to export their problems to other countries, as they choose. That is what national sovereignty is for. Perhaps Gerard Batten is being quoted in an approving manner, but I don’t think so.

He goes on to say “Britain must regain control of its own borders so that illegal immigrants will be in no doubt they will be denied entry.” Britain’s ability to police its own borders in order to keep out illegal immigrants is unimpaired by membership of the EU. Citizens of EU member states have the right to come to Britain without visas, about which UKIP complains also sometimes, but they must still pass through border controls. Gerard Batten’s statement is wrong on the facts and inconsistent with his own political philosophy.

The second bout of nonsense comes from Matthew Elliott of the TayPayers’ Alliance. He is quoted as saying “It’s shocking that British taxpayers will now have to foot the bill for these asylum seekers. If they were picked up in France they should have been processed there, not merely shuttled along to the UK. The fact that so many asylum seekers are desperate to get to Britain over any other European nation shows we are a soft touch.”

Maybe the reason why so many people want to claim asylum in Britain is that Britain is a better place to live and work and, whisper it quietly, pay taxes. The nonsense comes from the idea that each country should pay for the people to whom it grants asylum. If a disproportionate number of people are going to end up in the UK, then it would be in the interests of the UK taxpayer for there to be some kind of burden-sharing among EU member states so that the financial cost does not fall equally disproportionately. Why does Matthew Elliott want to put British public expenditure up?

A fundamental point that the traditional model of asylum policy does not take into account is that asylum seekers themselves have preferences. They might very well prefer to live in one country rather than another, if they have friends or relatives there, or if they speak the language; the current difficulties with asylum policy stem in part from a bureaucratic inability to recognise this. Solving this problem and balancing out the interests of the different member states along with the interests of the asylum seekers themselves is going need more European cooperation, not less.

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